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RAFA: “I’M PLAYING BETTER AND BETTER”…BUT BOUCHARD IS OUT…

Rafael Nadal insists he is moving in the right direction after he defeated Quentin Halys 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match of his Roland Garros title defence.

Despite a rusty patch during the opening set, Nadal soon settled into a decent rhythm and saw off the 18-year-old wildcard entrant in one hour and forty-nine minutes.

MOVING

The popular Spaniard admitted that he hasn’t been able to shrug off a troubled year entirely, with injury and indifferent form having left him seeded down at sixth for the French Open.

But Rafa gave hope to his millions of fans with this overall assessment: ‘I can’t forget what happened before, but I’ve been playing better and better recently, things are moving in the right direction and let’s see if I can have a good tournament.’

WINNERS

Nadal spoke as though he would have preferred some longer rallies during his match against Halys, who was a 2014 US Open Boys finalist. Rafa added: ‘He was trying to hit winners almost every ball, so sometimes I was in his hands, but I hit some good down-the-line forehands. There were moments when I lost concentration but in general I’m happy.’

Rafa often hits the heights at Roland Garros, even after he has played less well elsewhere. That’s why he can now boast a phenomenal record of 67 wins and only one loss at his favourite Slam.

THREAT

And Nadal won’t have been scared by the form of Novak Djokovic, the biggest threat to his progress, on the basis of what we saw yesterday.

Djokovic struggled in the second set against Jarkko Nieminen, a gutsy 33-year-old Finn who nevertheless shouldn’t have caused him too much trouble. Nieminen, only ranked 87th in the world, had break point to go 5-1 up and even served for the set at 5-3, coming within two points of levelling the match.

AMAZING

But Djokovic brought his amazing defensive qualities into play and refused to be beaten, just when Nieminen appeared to have the upper hand.

The Serb number one seed eventually triumphed 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 and paid tribute to the opponent who had given him such a thorough work-out.

FLATTERED

Djokovic said: ‘I started well but playing a Grand Slam is a different feeling mentally and physically. I felt nervous and excited and had a drop in concentration second set, but credit to Jarkko! I’m flattered that people see me as a potential winner here but I need to take one game at a time.’

AMUSING

The most amusing moment of the contest came when a line judge screamed so loud that Novak stared at him in surprise.

Having avoided the shock of a potential early exit, Djokovic can afford to smile. And he will doubtless get stronger as the tournament progresses.

CRASHED

The same could not be said of Eugenie Bouchard, who crashed out to Kristina Mladenovic of France. The sixth seed and previous semi-finalist just couldn’t get going and Mladenovic won 6-4, 6-4. The Canadian has been unable to recapture last year’s form and she has had a miserable 2015 so far. But Roland Garros fans are celebrating their woman’s stunning victory – another famous giant-killing after Kristina defeated Li Na last year.